The largest public art initiative in U.S. history will place billboards in all 50 states ahead of the 2018 elections.
For Freedoms, which was founded by the artists Hank Willis Thomas and Eric Gottesman in early 2016, is spearheading the ambitious $1.5 million countrywide initiative. The organization will also partner with more than 200 local partners to stage free public programming ahead the November midterm elections, aiming to promote civic engagement rather than push one party or agenda. The crux of the political action committee’s mission is the 50 State Initiative, which will erect 52 artist-designed billboards in every state as well as Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, all funded through 52 separate Kickstarter campaigns aiming to raise $3,000 each. “We are hoping to bring art to the center of public life in the lead-up to the midterms, which is where we think art should belong,” Gottesman told the New York Times.
Artists who will contribute billboards include Sam Durant, Theaster Gates, Marilyn Minter, Tania Bruguera, Trevor Paglen and Carrie Mae Weems. And while For Freedoms states that it wants to promote discourse rather than a single ideology, billboards in the past have rankled supporters of the current administration. One giant sign that was erected in Pearl, Mississippi, placed the Trump campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” atop a famous image of peaceful black protesters in Selma, Alabama, who stare down a line of police. It drew the ire of the state’s governor, and was later exhibited at MoMA PS1. And a billboard designed by Zoë Buckman that was installed in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in October 2016 referenced the Access Hollywood tape, which captured audio of the President bragging about groping women, reading, in gigantic letters, “Grab ‘em by the ballots.”